“women with guns” – Many women carry concealed weapons in their purse. For some it is a lipstick of the perfect shade. For others a mascara which provides voluminous curl. Yet, for seemingly increasing numbers of women across the United States of America, the concealed weapon of choice, is a compact handgun.
The apparent rise in female gun ownership is not a new phenomenon. It has been evident for decades. According to a poll by Gallup, in 2005 around 13% of US women owned a gun. In 2011 that number had risen to 23%. This represents a sizeable increase of 77% in just 7 years.
However, the figures may tend to over simplify the issue. Laura Browder is a Professor of American Studies at the University of Richmond. Dr. Browder explains, “The statistics are actually very mushy and hard to come by. The NRA does not keep track of the gender breakdown of its members, and recent scholars have questioned the gun industry’s assertion that women are carrying weapons in much larger numbers than previously. However, stories about women and guns are catnip for journalists, resulting in a proliferation of articles about women’s gun clubs, pink pistols, and concealed-carry bras. These items may be more symbolically important than statistically significant.”
While exact statistics may prove elusive, it is patent that many American women carry guns and do so for a multitude of reasons. Dr. Laura Browder says; “Women own guns for reasons ranging from self-protection to an interest in hunting to family tradition—roughly the same reasons men own guns.”
Although these reasons are equally as valid for men as for women, it seems that as a demographic, women are at particular risk of falling victim to gun violence. Women therefore have a vested interest in the subject of gun ownership and gun control.
Former Congress woman Gabby Giffords who sustained a gunshot wound to the head at a Tucson constituent meeting in 2011, expressed a similar sentiment. During the Domestic Violence Awareness Summit, in 2015, Gifford contended; “Dangerous people with guns are a threat to women. Criminals with guns. Abusers with guns. Stalkers with guns. That makes gun violence a women’s issue. For mothers, for families, for me and you.” Having survived this highly publicised and dreadful incident, Giffords has harnessed her profile to argue and campaign for what she considers “common sense gun laws.”
There are however, those who argue with equal conviction, for a greater relaxation of gun control. They insist that a woman is simply safer while in possession of a firearm. If confronted by an aggressor, she can give him her “best shot.” Supporters of the National Rifle Association argue that owning and carrying a weapon will protect an otherwise vulnerable woman from attack. Wayne La Pierre, NRA chief, famously said; “The one thing a violent rapist deserves is to face is a good woman with a gun!”
Opponents of this view dispute the validity of this argument. Dr. Laura Browder contends; “Guns do not protect women from physical and sexual assault. It is very difficult, psychologically speaking, to shoot someone, and chances are that a potential assailant will either be able to disarm a woman and use her weapon against her, or that she will not be able to unholster it in time to use it. There are many studies showing that keeping a gun in the house raises a risk of someone in the household falling prey to violence.”
This leads to the point that gun violence is also heavily connected with the intractable problem of violence within the home. According to national police department statistics, nearly 50 American women are shot to death by their former or current intimate partner, every month. This means fatalities exceed one per day. Dr. Laura Browder affirms; “Yes, it is certainly true that most women know their assailants, and that guns do nothing to protect against intimate partner violence.”
At the heart of the debate is the interpretation of the Second amendment of the US Constitution, ratified in 1791. The most critical and keenly contested phrase in this Amendment is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The passing of the centuries have done little to quell the debate which surrounds the interpretation of arguably the most controversial Constitutional modification included in the Bill of Rights.
Dr. Laura Browden asserts; “The second amendment is still hotly debated by scholars. I live in a country where there is roughly one weapon for every man, woman and child, and mass shootings (defined by at least four deaths or injuries at a scene) occur nearly daily. Although we are awash in weapons, gun sales have fallen significantly in the wake of Parkland. Fewer people are now becoming gunowners, but those who do own weapons, own five guns on average.”
As with all legal issues, political and social debate informs public policy on the subject of gun control. The discussion influences the federal government’s attempts to curtail gun violence, while honouring the Constitution of the United States. When it comes to devising and implementing policy to tackle gun violence, research suggest that perhaps part of the solution lies in addressing underlying issues of serious mental illness along with social marginalisation and political disenfranchisement. Each of these factors contribute to soaring levels of gun violence and the associated fatalities.
The issues surrounding the carrying of concealed weapons, has preoccupied lawyers, scholars and American citizens for over three hundred years. It is certain to continue to provoke vociferous debate for decades to come. But most importantly, what is in dispute here, is not just the right to bear arms but the efficacy of actually being armed. It is of particular significance for women. Laura says: “Carrying a weapon tends to make a woman less, rather than more, safe. Unless she is willing to commit to frequent practice at the firing range—like cops and soldiers do—chances are slim that it will be an asset to her, rather than a liability.”
The issue of whether a woman should carry a loaded weapon on her person, clearly polarises opinions and elicits strong arguments on both sides of the debate. Despite these conflicting arguments the statistics support the assertation that when it comes to gun ownership, many women simply feel safer knowing that they’ve got it- “in the bag.”
By Paula Logan